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Business Q&A: Duncan Davies, co-founder of North East technology company, Notify

Jun 8, 2021 | Business

In a interview taken from the latest issue of East Durham Business magazine, we find out more about Notify, the Health & Safety platform revolutionising workplace safety, health and wellbeing.

A billion people? That’s a bold target.

It is. And one I think is achievable and needed. My co-founder Andy and I launched Notify in 2017, as we felt that Health & Safety was stuck in the dark ages when it came to the use of technology. We could see that, by providing access to mobile-first software, we could support workers anywhere there was an internet connection – and that’s a lot of people!

Technology touches everything we do now. People can use an app to find out if their bus is on time, connect with friends on the way to work, check their bank account to see if they’ve been paid. So it seemed crazy to us that many companies were – and still are – asking their staff to seek out what we call the ‘big green ring binder’ when they want to make a report of someone tripping over a loose cable in reception. Many organisations still believe they legally require a physical accident book.

We believe that every worker, whether they’re in an office, at home, on the road, in a warehouse, on a building site, and in whatever country they happen to be in, should be able to use an app to do this in 60 seconds. It’s as simple as that. And we have users in over 100 countries now to prove our point.

What would you say is the most common Health & Safety issue businesses encounter?

One of the biggest issues we see all the time is lack of engagement with employees – it’s really important that employers make it easy for their staff to speak up when there’s something wrong, whether it be an accident, near-miss or someone’s feeling unwell. But their processes, or existing systems, make that really hard. So, guess what? People don’t bother reporting. We have a client who had 60 near misses reported by their employees in the year prior to using our software. In the first 10 months of using Notify, they had seen over 400 near-misses logged.

That happened purely because employees no longer had to pick up the phone to report something, or complete a paper form, or add something to a spreadsheet. Moving from that analog process to being able to quickly use an app to report an incident in a matter of seconds meant that reporting was much easier and a lot more accessible.

I would imagine the collaborative nature of the technology helps Health & Safety issues get followed up too?

Absolutely. One of the problems we identified in our early market research was that employees were reluctant to report incidents as they felt that the issues were never going to be looked at anyway, or they were never told they had been resolved. So, we developed our software to include a feature whereby an employee receives a “thank you” email. The person carrying out the investigation can also share comments and feedback with the reporter, so it becomes really transparent and reassures the employee that they have contributed to everyone else’s safety.

Today, via Notify’s action tracking tools, corrective actions required to stop an incident happening again, or ending in a more serious incident, can be assigned to anyone inside or outside the organisation, so it’s not just the Health & Safety manager dealing one-to-one with the person who reported the incident. This is a great way of helping organisations make safety everyone’s responsibility.

Employees suddenly being able to have their voices heard makes such a big difference when it comes to Health & Safety becoming part of a company’s culture. We have really leveraged the power of technology to help create actions for change, alert reminders, and to help businesses avoid having to create extra processes and rely on individuals to make things happen. It really does become a collaborative process.

What impact did lockdown have on Notify and its clients?

As we’re a technology business, homeworking was not a logistical challenge for us. Like all businesses, we were worried about the future and the impact on the physical and mental health of our team. We’ve added around 30 new clients since March 2020 – including large PLCs and even a customer in Russia – and our team has shown amazing resilience under pressure. The key thing was to understand what the impact was on our clients. We’ve now over 60 customers across a range of sectors, from those that we knew would probably not be affected very much, all the way through to clients who were going to experience major change – and did. Trying to figure out what we were able to do to support them and what they needed was our primary focus throughout the various stages of lockdown and restrictions.

Early into the pandemic, we added a function to allow clients to use Notify to report Covid-related events and concerns. This might include employees showing symptoms, or being worried about the illness, or simply others around them not socially distancing – we quickly built this ‘new normal’ into our technology. That’s one of the benefits of the way that modern software is built; it’s fully customisable and we can adapt incredibly quickly to clients’ needs.

How do you think businesses have adapted over the past twelve months?

Even businesses that didn’t believe they were ‘high risk’ underestimated the difficulty of deploying homeworking protocols and then eventually getting a team back to the office.

Companies can spend years delivering great Health & Safety standards when it comes to things like employee posture, seating position, screen glare, break schedules etc – and to suddenly have workers sat at their kitchen tables and on their sofas had – and still has – huge implications. We developed a number of homeworking checklists so that people could self-assess their homeworking space and bring a whole new level of HSE compliance into our clients’ businesses.

Once restrictions were being lifted, what sounds like quite a simple first step – returning to the office – had a 25-page government document covering things that companies should check and make sure happen. So our clients had to adapt, then adapt again, and keep adapting as the landscape changed.

The biggest change is that safety is everywhere, and reassuring employees is going to be the number one job for every business. Even those that decide to use a hybrid or blended approach to work are going to need to accommodate the different risks that apply to those ways of working. A year ago I wondered how many companies had given much thought to PPE and dynamic risks assessments – now it’s on the nightly news.

What I’ve been really impressed with, across our client base, is that they have been able to quickly address the risks around Covid and put the right things in place. That will stand them in good stead because, unfortunately, it seems that we need to be ready for similar events taking place in the future – whether that’s around a virus or as a result of climate change.

For us that means our #safetyrevolution is even more important as we look to get our message out more widely and continue to build innovation into our software. We’re already incorporating real time trends and root-cause analysis, but ultimately we’ll bring in capability that helps clients see where risks are increasing and move to a more predict-and-prevent model of safety management. That’s the big vision!

FIVE TIPS FOR CHOOSING YOUR DIGITAL HEALTH & SAFETY PLATFORM

  1. MAKE SURE IT’S SIMPLE TO USE

Remember that safety starts with engagement so, right from the start, make sure you think about how you make life as easy and simple as possible for your people to report concerns, safety events, or complete checklists. Once you have some options, try a couple out. Any software worth its salt these days will allow you the chance to have a play for free and let you test whether it does what it says on the tin.

  1. UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM

Make sure you understand (and share) the problem you’re trying to solve, or the opportunities you’re looking to secure. For example, if you want to increase near miss reporting, then make sure you think about that aspect when selecting a solution. If you need better trends and analytics to help you win tenders, then make sure the software provides comprehensive dashboard capability.

  1. CHOOSE A PLATFORM THAT’S WELL MAINTAINED

Check that the software comes with regular updates and improvements. You should expect your provider to listen to feedback from clients and continually enhance their solution, without being asked to pay for basic upgrades.

  1. THINK ABOUT CUSTOMISATION

Make sure your digital solution is easy to customise. It will always be least expensive to buy software ‘out of the box’ but make sure you question how easy it is to configure and make changes. For example, you may call a near-miss a “near-hit” or a “close call”. You may also have terminology – such as in the rail sector – where regulation will dictate some of the words you use. Make sure your software provider gives you the tools to make those subtle but important changes.

  1. EVALUATE YOUR ROI

It’s important to assess the return on investment on any spend in an organisation – and safety software is no different. Your FD will demand to see that you’ve considered this. From time saved, to increased productivity, to reduced insurance premiums and greater chances of winning tenders, you should evaluate what digital will mean to the bottom line. It won’t be 100% accurate but it will help you make sure you’ve considered the costs and benefits of making the change.